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Not a Natural Disaster!

a swirl of a white liquid and a blue liquid like oil on water

We’ve heard of natural disasters, but can you think of a disaster that people have caused? If you thought of pollution, you are right!

Oil spills are one form of disaster that is not a natural disaster, but one that people have caused. Oil spills can kill marine life and damage entire ecosystems. When an oil spill occurs, it is essential that we clean up that mess! So, here is your final STEM Challenge… you are going to work towards cleaning up that mess!

This activity is pulled from our Virtual ExCEL Camps happening summer of 2020! While these activities are written to fit into the larger lesson plan of the camp themes, you can complete them with your little one at any time. Learn more about our Virtual ExCEL Summer Camp here!


  • Tray or baking dish
  • 15 Cotton balls
  • ½ a cup of Vegetable or any type of liquid cooking oil
  • 2 cups of Water
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • Dish soap
  • Cocoa powder (makes it feel like crude oil)
  • 1 hollowed eggshell (you can hollow out an egg by poking a hole at the top and bottom of the egg and blowing out the inside of the egg into a bowl)
  • Timer



How can you best clean up the pollution (the oil) without damaging the environment (the water)?

Watch this video:

To do the activity, watch this video, or click on the direct link below:



Challenge – clean up that mess!

Constraints – you must extract the oil and save the egg, by only using the cotton balls and spoon given to you.

Success Criteria – you will only have water left in your tray or baking dish, and an unbroken eggshell


  1. Pour the oil, water, cocoa powder, and feathers (or eggshells) into a large baking dish
  2. Think about the properties of water and oil and plan your strategy
  3. Set the timer for 10 minutes
  4. Use the cotton balls to soak up the oil and cocoa
  5. Clean off the eggshell and remove as much of the oil as you can without breaking the eggshell
  6. Reflect on how your strategy worked
  7. Improve your plan
  8. Try again if you would like to.


Scientists and engineers have many crazy ideas and have created incredible life-changing inventions. Some started with complete failures, but many led to things we can’t live without – like the light bulb, telephone, personal computer, GPS, or the internet. It all starts with a question, a plan, and it leads to a creation. So remember, be bold! Be observant! And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, it’s all part of learning!




Cheryl Hannan, Professor from California State University, LA.

Johna Bogue, Lower school science teacher (grades PreK- 3rd) at The Pegasus School, CA.

Parisa Behmardi Lamarra, Teacher of the Visually Impaired at Whittier Unified School District, CA.

Susan Drake, Special education teacher and student in VI college program at Missouri State University.

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